The legal-profession wranglings and self-destructive impulses in Puncture are as over-the-top as the medical shenanigans and poor lifestyle choices on TV’s House MD, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t equally entertaining (and even educational). Sometimes, it takes a spoonful of sex, drugs and rock-star roleplaying to help the medicine go down.
Chris Evans is tattooed hardbody Mike Weiss, a crack-smoking, mainlining and hooker-happy Houston attorney. (“Mommy, Captain America‘s doing smack with a ho!”) He and his absolute-opposite partner Paul Danziger (Mark Kassen) eke out a living representing smalltime plaintiffs until a potentially massive antitrust case lands in their laps.
Three years earlier, emergency room nurse Vicky (Vinessa Shaw) received a needle prick while administering an injection to an overdose patient. Now she’s dying of AIDS and a friend has invented a needle that would prevent those kinds of accidents. Vicky wants to expose hospitals that refuse to use the new “safety point” syringe because of corrupt back-room purchasing deals.
Intimidated by deep-pocketed healthcare providers, every other law firm has turned her down. Practical Paul wants to do the same, but conscientious Mike sees the case as a noble cause.
Puncture tosses so much irksome inside information about the medical industry at viewers that at least some of it has to, well, stick. Among the fast-flying facts is the chilling revelation that disposable plastic syringes, which cannot be sterilized, are largely to blame for the AIDS epidemic in Africa. That’s because they are re-used up to hundreds of times there instead of destroyed.
Puncture is as much about Mike dealing with his demons as his fight against the corporate dark side, but the flashy screenplay (by Chris Lopata) has trouble deciding whether his nasty habits are such a bad thing. The message in the first half of the movie seems to be that doing drugs and procuring prostitutes makes today’s busy professional more efficient, ingenious and compassionate. Party animal Mike is a hyperactive dynamo on blow, enacting elaborate legal arguments for his entourage between nose-powdering sessions. A beautiful and sweetly accommodating call girl is happy to shoot Mike up with controlled substances while he’s busy on the phone. And Mike refuses to give up on Vicky’s increasingly hopeless case even in the face of financial ruin.
Former Human Torch Evans is so on fire as Mike that he’s obviously headed for a flame-out. Yet despite being hospitalized with a laundry list of substance-abuse conditions, Mike is back on the street in no time. His partner Paul’s astonishment at the news that Mike has symptoms of longtime drug use is hard to buy, considering that Mike is about as subtle as Scarface when it comes to hoovering dope and living the high life.
Even if Puncture‘s dazzling excesses are at odds with the serious central issue that millions of lives are endangered by shameful hospital policies, the film is irresistibly watchable. Evans is a high-energy hoot as Mike. Mark Kassen, who co-directed with brother Adam Kassen, is believably exasperated as Paul. Marshall Bell is good as bitterly frustrated Jeffrey Dancort, inventor of the safety needle that hospitals refuse to let nurses know exists “because they’ll want it.” And Brett Cullen is excellently oily as high-priced opposing attorney Nathaniel Price.
A PBS special would have provided a more sober look at the problem raised by Puncture, which is based on a true story involving a real-life junkie lawyer. But it wouldn’t have been nearly as much fun as watching an indignant US Senator point out that Mike has cocaine under his nose, a betrayed wife firing a gun at a house party or a parking-lot handjob offer from a legal assistant.
As two characters say in Puncture to drive the point home, “Sometimes the brightest light comes from the darkest places.”